Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2009. Archangel is the original creation of Brother Grimace. This story ties in with my previous works, Three, Jurisdiction, Let Vengeance Ring, Recruitment Day and A Visit to Camp Grizzly and the Ringbearer shared universe. Further information about the The Agency, the Ringbearer shared universe and a list of associated stories can be found at the DariaWiki.

Richard Lobinske and Brother Grimace

Tales of the Ringbearers: With New Responsibility

Tennyson University, Arlington, VA. Earth D-77

Dressed in his flight gear and carrying a helmet with "Archangel" painted across the visor cover, Capt. Gerald Wright angrily marched away from the campus helipad toward the Curtis E. LeMay College of Military Studies. "AlertCon One and I'm here to ferry the old Project Fast Forward director back to Uatu HQ," the tall, well-muscled African-American growled. "I'm the one that warned them that the shit was going to hit the fan today and they're sending me off on taxi duty. I know Gen. Trainor has connections, but dammit, this is ridiculous."

The secret Project Uatu facility outside Baltimore had been in a state of frantic activity when Capt. Wright left and there was little wonder why. Uatu had been recently established to investigate and detect incursions from other universes or dimensions and then to observe them for possible new technology, intervening only if necessary. A week ago, one had been detected and every team sent to investigate had disappeared. This morning, another incursion had been detected not far from the first.

The officer blew through the building lobby and didn't stop until he faced the dean's office receptionist. "Please tell Gen. Trainor that Capt. Wright is here to see her on urgent business."

After a brief check, the receptionist said, "I'm sorry, but the General is busy right now."

"Please tell the General, 'Lucifer's Hammer.'"

After relaying the message, the receptionist said, "You may see her now."

He saw Gen. Trainor, an African-American woman in dress blues, leading a petite redhead from her office while saying, "I'm going to have to beg off lunch today, Amy. Why don't you take the rest of the day off and see Reese and your children. Maybe go up to his family's place by the Greenbrier."

"Okay, Paula, I'll do that," Amy said as she briskly walked past Capt. Wright.

The General quickly escorted him into her office and closed the door. "What the hell are you doing using that code?"

"Because it's the proper one, Ma'am. We're facing a possible Extinction Level Event."

"One of your dreams?"

"Yes, ma'am. Uatu has recorded two separate incursions within the last week and so far, we've lost every team sent to investigate. They are likely related to the ELE. My orders are to bring you to HQ immediately."

"I assume that the train wreck/chemical spill evacuation area in western Maryland is one of the incursion locations?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

Gen. Trainor used a curious key to open a drawer in her desk. After taking out a sealed envelope, she grabbed her hat from the rack by the door and said, "Then we had better be on our way."

"Oh, hell," Capt. Wright said as the barrage of chatter hit him when he turned the OH-58's radio on.

Beside him in the co-pilot's seat, Gen. Trainor said, "It sounds like you were right."

The captain said, "This is Archangel in DELPHI One-One-Alpha-One declaring priority takeoff from Tennyson University for direct transit to Project Uatu. I have Godseye aboard."

Several seconds later as Capt. Wright was bringing the helicopter off the ground, a voice came over the radio saying, "Archangel, this is Uatu. Proceed with Godseye to the field headquarters at grid coordinate Lima Five One. Repeat; proceed to grid coordinate Lima Five One."

"Roger. Proceeding to grid coordinates Lima Five One."

Gen. Trainor said, "Well, they found something if they want me to go there directly. Now that we're in the air, what can you tell me about what's going on? What did you see?"

"It sounds crazy, but I had a dream of a human wave killing everyone in its path. They acted like they were on some kind of strong painkiller like PCP, because they could take tremendous injuries and keep going."

By the time they reached the field headquarters, it was in the middle of a hasty evacuation. After a quick consult with the command staff, Gen. Trainor took over the ground situation and she directed Capt. Wright to coordinate the aerial assets.

Zombies, he thought while flying rescue missions out to stranded civilians and troops. They don't shamble around like the old George Romero movies, but there's nothing behind their eyes except death.

After three hours of continual flights back and forth, he left the chopper on the ground a little too long and a dozen of them grabbed onto the landing skid as he tried to lift off. The extra weight, along with the four civilians crammed inside, was too much for the engine and it strained to gain even inches. Remembering the movies, Capt. Wright aimed for the head and knocked down each one he targeted, but it only delayed the inevitable as another took his place while his clip emptied.

Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Exhausted and grimy from his last mission, Team Leader Richard was still wearing a weapon belt holding a light saber and a plasma pistol when he reached the door to his supervisor's office. He ignored the doorbell button and knocked on it instead. A quiet, "Come in," came from the speaker under the button.

A man of medium build with light brown hair and utilitarian glasses, Richard stopped to brush loose dirt from his shirt, jeans and heavy boots before he opened the door and entered the nicely appointed office. "Eddie, I'm beat," he said. "I really hope you're not about to send us off on another mission already."

"Nothing like that, Richard," said a slim man with a graying goatee who was seated on the side of a desk. "How long has it been? Eighteen – nineteen years?"

"Somewhere around there." He took off a well-worn, white bill cap and said, "I still think there's mold growing on it from being sent to Doggiebag for training."

After a short laugh, Eddie said, "I can't believe that you still call the place that. Hey, at least you didn't get dumped into the middle of a Darkover winter wearing shorts and flip-flops or into the mid-term exams at the Academy of Gallifrey like Don and Bert."

"No, but with only one person to talk to, I was starting to reverse nouns and verbs by the time I finished training."

"I went for six months in that Shaolin monastery before anyone said a word to me." Eddie shifted and said, "Despite it all, you have to admit that everything we've been through beats the alternative of dying from the gas leak in the restaurant next door to the bookstore where we were gaming."

Richard became quiet for a moment. "You know, except for the two of us, everyone from that team are gone or retired."

Eddie stood up. "That's why I asked you here."

"You're retiring," Richard said as a statement, not a question.

"And you're being promoted to Hypersphere Supervisor in my place."

"Why me?" Richard said, thinking of the responsibility that came with supervising the teams that watched over a massive number of realities, making decisions on how to address outside influences on those universes, and how to restore them to their natural path.

"You've had an excellent career," Eddie said. "Ever since you pulled my fat out of the fire on your first mission."

Richard looked to the side, "Well, except for the Polyus Incident in universe D-515."

"You managed to set things right."

"After three tries, and we still never figured out what happened to that astronaut, either."

"Actually, since you brought that up that multiverse."


"HQ is using this as a chance to reorganize supervisors' areas of responsibility. You will be the primary supervisor of the known DM-Multiverse."

"It's better than the DW-Multiverse, but, man, that is one diverse cluster and there are still a lot of them that we haven't investigated yet."

"We think you're up to the challenge."

"Thanks. I guess."

Northwestern Maryland. Earth D-77

His passengers screamed and kicked at the zombies climbing up on the landing skid while Capt. Wright struggled to maintain control of the helicopter. "What the f..." he muttered when movement above him and to the right caught his eye.

A formation of three people flew toward him about thirty feet above the zombie mob. Below them, a wave of dull gray powder rolled ahead, consuming the zombies as they dissolved into the same material. The leader pulled ahead and extended his arm toward the helicopter. Capt. Wright felt as if something had grabbed and held the vehicle steady.

The zombies surrounding the helicopter turned into dust that blew away in the rotor wash. The leader nodded and Capt. Wright heard a voice in his head, saying, "Don't be alarmed, we're here to help. After my team clears the zombies in this area, we will escort you to safety. After that, we would appreciate it if you could direct us to your local command to coordinate further assistance. If you wish to reply, simply think clearly what you wish to say and I will understand."

"Who are you?" Capt. Wright said, still not entirely trusting the telepathy.

"We are Ringbearers. Our mission is to stop the zombie invasion of your world and help repair the damage done."

"The second incursion," Capt Wright whispered.

"Something told me our arrival had been detected."

"Follow me, and stay clear of the rotors." When he saw the leader turn back toward the other two and gesture toward the rotor arc, Capt. Wright said, "They can't hear me?"

"No, they're not telepaths."

Gen. Trainor was waiting at the command post when Capt. Wright led the three Ringbearers from the helipad. "Captain."

He saluted and said, "General, these are the people that pulled my ass out of the fire back there. They claim to be from a group known as the Corps of Ringbearers and are based on a planet named Nova Valdris in another universe."

The leader stepped forward. Though dressed in an efficient and functional jumpsuit, he wore a high quality rapier on his belt that, while looking out of place in a military tent, was perfectly at home on him. "Greetings, General Trainor. I am Don Javier Alvarez, Master Ringbearer and my team members are Audrey Wilkes and Niles Ostewitz."

The other two, dressed in similar jumpsuits, gave polite nods to the general.

"Follow me," Gen. Trainor said, quickly turning and going back inside. As she passed through to her temporary office, she barked, "Get those Apaches in the air."

Capt. Wright said, "General, request permission..."

"Denied," she said over her shoulder. "Your other talents take precedence over your flying skills."

Pointing to a group of symbols on a holographic map he had created in Gen. Trainor's office, Don Javier said, "My team was clearing this flank when we encountered Capt. Wright trying to rescue civilians from the area."

Gen. Trainor said, "So, you have ten more teams eliminating zombies even as we speak and more on the way."

"Correct. I gave orders for them to continue their mission while I made contact with the local authorities and to extend the Corps apology for failing to prevent her breakout from D-716 to your world."

"Her?" she asked.

"We call her Apocalypse. Nobody knows how many worlds she's destroyed with zombie plagues. She's the Four Horsemen rolled into one and given wings. We thought we had her trapped on Earth D-716, but she still managed to escape with a large cadre of zombies to your Earth. We're here to set things right."

"While I'm reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth," Gen. Trainor said, "I have to ask, 'What's the catch?' There has to be more than cleaning up your mistake."

"There is. Most Ringbearers are from worlds that have suffered from some kind of supernatural event and choose to fight them wherever they may be. Therefore, we will ask for one thing; to recruit like-minded people from your planet."

"I see."

A two foot diameter, glowing disk suddenly appeared in the air near Don Javier. A tiny woman about one foot tall with knee-length dark hair flew out and the interdimensional portal vanished. She carried a small box and hovered in front of the Master Ringbearer. "Don Javier, I bring word from the Council for these good people."

"Go ahead, Emissary."

Eyes wide, Audrey and Niles looked at each other and he whispered, "Emissary?"

The tiny woman spun in mid-air and said, "General Trainor, my name is Fran Lawrence and I bring you and your people greetings from the Council of Ringmasters."

After what she'd learned over the past half hour, Gen. Trainor was pleasantly not surprised at Fran's sudden appearance. Instead, she calmly said, "Please extend my greetings to the Council from the Government of the United States of America."

"As a gesture of the value we place upon your Earth and the people who reside upon it, the Council has sent two of our most valuable rings." The box opened and, having to wrap her hand around the metal, Fran brought up one silver ring. "Over a thousand years ago, the Ringmasters made one thousand Defender Rings to stop a zombie event on their home world. This is one of those, known to us as a First Ring."

Audrey whistled and said, "This place is really important."

Fran flew to the Captain. "Gerald Wright, known to many of your peers as Archangel, do you wish to accept this Defender Ring? In doing so, becoming one of the Corps of Ringbearers, with all of the duties and responsibilities that requires?"

"General?" he asked, looking hopeful at his superior.

"Consider your self on detached duty, Captain. I'll have someone fill out the paperwork later."

"I accept," Captain Wright said.

Fran slid the ring onto his finger and said, "Welcome, Archangel."

There was a brief, blue glow as the ring settled onto Archangel's finger and he felt the power within flow up his arm.

Fran then flew back to Gen. Trainor, closed the box and presented it to her. "Though a regular ring, this one comes with a most honorable history. We call it Jeanne's Ring."

Don Javier stepped back with a completely surprised look on his face. The other two ringbearers moved closer together and Niles said, "I think we've just stepped into the big leagues."

Gen. Trainor shook her head. "My duty is here, I can't accept."

"It is not for you, but for someone very important to you. You need to give it to her."

Gen. Trainor looked at the box for several seconds before saying, "I know who you mean, but why do you need me to give it to her?"

"She trusts you," Fran said. "And beyond that, let's just say it's complicated."

Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Eddie followed Richard into the newly fitted laboratory and looked around at the dark green cabinets and grey lab tops. At the far end was a U-shaped work area separated from the room by a half-wall. A gray notebook computer and a coffee pot already occupied the desk space. "Nice layout," Eddie said.

"I saw something like this on one of my recent missions and liked it for some reason," Richard said, going to the coffee pot and pouring two cups.

Eddie accepted the cup and both of them took drinks. Eddie said, "Time for you to start."

Richard sat down on an office chair and started the computer. When several different time-space displays came up, he said, "This feels weird."

"You'll get used to it."

"Not too used it. I'm planning on still getting out in the field from time to time. I don't think I can stay a desk jockey."

Eddie put a hand on Richard's shoulder and said, "Didn't think you could. Just...be careful out there."

Richard looked closely at one graph and then tapped a couple of keys on the computer to expand it. The detailed display looked like a bundle of green threads, each representing the timeline of a universe. What caught his attention were several threads that had turned red and started to separate from the bundle. He said, "That doesn't look good."

"No rest for the wicked," Eddie said. "I'd better leave so that you can get to work."

"Enjoy you retirement," Richard said.

As Eddie left the room, he said, "Good luck."

"Thanks, I'm going to need it." Richard began to scan the affected timelines and those nearby. "Great, these are all recent branches that we've never had a chance to investigate."

Several hours later, he watched his old field team file out of the lab, the final of six teams briefed on the situation. Richard sat and took a drink from a cup of coffee gone cold and felt the familiar weight of responsibility that comes with command.

Northwestern Maryland. Earth D-77

Amazed at the feeling of being able to fly unaided after years of piloting helicopters, Archangel was in one of the middle positions of a finger-four formation with Don Javier's team. Below them, zombies retreated from the onslaught of multiple Ringbearer teams toward a distant, solid black arch.

Archangel had quickly learned how to use the Defender Ring's innate power to destroy undead creatures. With the help of the team, he was picking up the other basic skills of a Ringbearer, such as using a telekinetic shield so automatically it was done virtually without conscious thought.

As they came down low to make another pass, Archangel asked, "Why don't we cut a path to that portal and cut off their escape?"

Don Javier telepathically said, "Apocalypse is at the portal, holding it open. Even though she's falling back to her home Earth, D-517, we don't have the forces to take her on directly. Instead, we're cutting down as many of her zombies as we can."

"You don't have the forces? You said that there are ten other teams and more on the way."

"That's not enough to take her on, trust me."

"All right, then. What happens when she gets back to her home?"

"One of our advance bases is on the way with enough Ringbearers to deal with her properly."

Near Central Park, New York City, Earth D-517

Roomy, well appointed and with an unobstructed view of Central Park, the apartment would've been among the most desired pieces of real estate in New York City in years past. Now, it was a pale shadow of its former glory, grimy and disordered from the early days of panic and then years of disuse after humanity had died. Inside, the four members of the Agency team sent to investigate watched as hordes of undead came through the massive, black portal at one end of the park to join the multitude filling the city.

One man held an ornate staff in one hand and a PDA like device in the other as he knelt by the window. He was recording the activity in the park when one of the other team members said, "Boss, I now it's your first mission as team leader and all, but don't you think it's time we got out of here and reported back to HQ?"

The leader turned, revealing a stylized hawk-head tattoo on his forehead. "We're safe for a while since we sealed the stairs and the elevator shafts. I want to see if we can ID the source of that portal. It's almost as large as a Supergate. Who or whatever is behind that can cause us a lot of trouble in the future."

"I get that, but if things go south, we're way too outnumbered here and to be honest, I'm not sure if I want to screw around with anyone badass enough to make a portal that big and control this many undead."

A winged figure flew out of the portal above the crowd. Scantily clad in black, light glittered from the few pieces of bright silver armor and jewelry she wore. In her left hand were a spear and her right, a round shield painted black and detailed with ancient Gallic ornamentation. Her left shoulder was protected by an articulated spaulder and greaves protected her legs. Strawberry blond hair fluttered in the wind as she flapped her wings, hovering.

"Prepare to depart," the team leader said. When he began to enter new commands into his PDA, Apocalypse spun around and flew at high speed to their perch.

"Son-of-a-bitch!" another team member said. He braced a very business-like assault rifle against the wall. "She saw us!"

The leader said, "Keep her busy!"

Apocalypse gracefully rolled her shield to block every projectile and energy burst directed at her, appearing almost like a mid-air ballet. At the apartment window, she hovered and shifted her spear to her shield hand. Close up, the team could see the silver and gold tiara on her head, a complex necklace at her throat. The same Gallic pattern of gold wire on the tiara was also on the spaulders and the greaves gleamed like polished silver.

She extended her left hand with the thumb pointing to the side. "Years ago, my life depended on the Emperor's whim. Now yours depends on mine."

Slowly, she rotated the thumb upward and said, "Today, you lose."

The PDA exploded in the leader's hand and he only had time to lower his staff and fire one blast...

Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

The warning chime brought Richard to his desk from the other end of the laboratory. He arrived just in time to see the timelines of his old team come to a stop. "Damn," he said, dropping heavily onto the chair.

For a minute, the chime continued while Richard sat and stared at the wall. Without looking, he reached over to the notebook and tapped a key to mute the sound. Next, he slowly rolled to a late Twentieth Century style telephone and tapped a code onto the keypad.

"Nora, I'll be out in the field for a while," he said. "No, not certain for how long. I'll let you know when I get back. Thanks."

After setting the handset down on the cradle, he snapped a portable computer onto his belt and then picked up his light saber.

Northwestern Maryland. Earth D-77

Like many combat veterans, Archangel had learned to catch a few moments of needed sleep under almost any conditions. The portal had closed and Apocalypse had escaped. With the fighting over, he understood how using the ring could drain a person. Along with several other Ringbearers, he'd found a nice, sunny spot and sat down to catch a few moments of sleep and to allow his Defender Ring to recharge.

The power of his dream rudely broke Archangel out of his slumber. He took a fraction of a second to reorient himself, unconsciously bringing up the ring's ability to generate a holographic map. He used the map to locate Don Javier and flew as fast as he dared to him.

"Sir, when do we go to D-517?"

"The base won't be in position for another ten hours. Why?"

"Because there's somebody already there."

"What? Who?"

"I don't know, but something tells me we need to find him."

Near Central Park, New York City, Earth D-517

Though their weapons and some loose gear remained, there was no sign of the team when Richard stepped through the portal to the old apartment. Silent, he inspected the room and briefly looked out at the now empty park below. All around him, he felt darkness. Letting his mind relax, he senses out further and further, only to continue feeling the dark side dominate the faint light that managed to survive in the plants and animals that had been beneath notice.

Satisfied he was alone for the moment, he used his handheld computer to locate the hardened memory core of the team leader's unit and scan it. Enough of the recording survived for Richard to see the massive portal and horde of zombies filling the center of the city. The recording ended with Apocalypse flying toward the team.

The psychic residue in the room told Richard the rest. The flying woman's spear lashed out time and again, unerringly striking down a team member with each thrust. No projectile, no pulse of energy and no magic seemed to touch her, while no armor or shield could withstand her spear. In less than thirty seconds, the team was dead. Less than a minute later, their corpses rose and went down stairs to join the multitude in the park.

Richard slowly made four entries on the keypad of his computer and hit the transmit button. He looked around the room and said, "I'm going to miss all of you. I hope you find the rest you deserve."

Passing the orbit of Jupiter D-517

When he stepped out of the portal and onto the deck of the mobile base, Tintagel, Archangel said, "Whoa, so that's what stepping through a Stargate feels like."

"Going through an Architect's Gate is more like that movie, but trust me, you don't want to mess around with one of those," Don Javier said. "Not that you will have much of a chance since all Ringbearers have been banned from using them."

"It sounds like there's a lot out there I need to learn."

"That's an understatement. We've discovered hundreds of different universes and several different ways to travel between them."

"How do you keep track of them all?"

"Really big computers and a lot of techies."

"I see," Archangel said. "I hope you don't mind a change of subject, but do we have other options for food besides the ambrosia from our rings?"

"We have a fully functional mess on board, with very talented chefs," Don Javier said. "If you'll follow me, I'll introduce you to them. We have time for a good meal before our mission briefing."

New York City, Earth D-517

With so little mental capacity remaining in the undead, Richard found it to be almost effortless to pass through them undetected. No longer drawn together, the zombies had dispersed throughout the large city at random. He arrived at the main public library and found it heavily damaged, but with parts still standing. Inside, books were scattered between the floor and shelves with many moldering and falling apart after years of neglect.

After finding a secure place behind the circulation desk, Richard used his computer to scan the remaining books, using chemical and physical differences to determine the print on each page and save each book as a text and image file to compile a history of the planet.

While that scan was running, he also had the computer evaluate the planet's timeline back through space/time and to evaluate how the written record matched reality. In addition, he used the evaluation to determine what other realities had been altered by forces from this one.

While waiting, Richard ate some compact field rations and drank coffee from a small canteen that housed an extra-dimensional bubble much larger than the outer shell. The lonely sigh of faint wind and the bleakness that encompassed the planet weighed on him. As the only appreciable force of light left on the planet, he knew that he would stand out to any sensitive being and he hoped that his opponent wasn't.

When the scans were complete, he reviewed the results and sent a message back to Sector Headquarters.


Severe to catastrophic interference detected in all realities within 1.152 hyperstadians of this reference point.

Cause: single Upsilon-class reanimation-capable metahuman.

Request Maximum Interdict immediately.

Do not send additional teams until evaluation is complete. Repeat: Do not send additional teams until evaluation is complete.


Richard knew that his superiors would be furious. Maximum Interdicts were rare and it would be his career if he was wrong, but that they would listen to his field evaluation and not risk further personnel. Completely sealing off a universe required an almost unimaginably immense effort and even The Agency could maintain it for only a short time. He had to work quickly to determine the best time and place to stop his foe and restore dozens of universes to their natural timeline.

He put his gear away and brushed some of the dust from his pants. "Well, Ms. Apocalypse, it's time for me to go to where you got your start under Emperor Benito." He opened a portal and stepped though to find himself outside of the Coliseum. Alone among the ruins of the Eternal City, the grand building was untouched and looked the same as when it had been restored seventy years before.

Mobile Base Tintagel in high elliptical orbit, Earth D-517

Seated with Ringbearer the team that he'd met earlier, Archangel's wonderful meal was spoiled by a wave of discomfort that rolled through him from an interdimensional event far stronger than anything he'd previously encountered. Moments later, the alarm claxon sounded on the base.

Niles said, "I wonder what's going on."

Archangel swallowed hard, trying to accept what his metahuman ability had clearly indicated. "We've been cut off."

"What do you mean, 'cut off?'" Audrey said.

"Something is preventing all movement in or out of this universe."

"I've never heard of that being possible," Don Javier said.

"Now you have. The last thing to go in or out was from our little anomaly below," Archangel said.

Don Javier said, "Can you tell where it's at?"

"New York City. Wait...no, now it's in Rome. Whatever it is, its movement isn't restricted."

Audrey said, "I still can't believe that we've been cut off from the rest of the multiverse."

The base commander's voice said over the intercom, "Attention. Attention. All hands to battle stations. We have lost contact with the rest of the Corps of Ringbearers and our lock on Terra Beacon One. Attempts to travel to neighboring universes have failed. We must assume that we have been isolated for an attack. We're on our own, but we have each other. Trust in your companions and stay alert."

Archangel said, "Believe."

Rome, Earth D-517

Inside, the Coliseum was just as wonderfully restored and preserved as the outside. However, a few modern updates were apparent, such as stadium lights, media boxes, snack stands and a display board. Posters in still good condition lined the sides of the entry passages. Residual dark essence stained the center arena, the signature of thousands and thousands of violent deaths.

Walking around the stands, Richard saw a poster that made him stop. It featured a winged woman with spear and shield standing over another fallen gladiator. He used his computer to translate the caption, "The Apocalypse. Five Years Undefeated Champion."

"Your beginning," he said. Looking around, Richard added, "And someplace you return."

Making his way to the main media box, he located one of the video cameras. He scanned the aged tape and replayed the static-laced recovered image on his computer.

The day had been spectacular and dozens of dead had the crowd in a frenzy when Apocalypse appeared and bowed before the audience and the Emperor. Her opponent was a well-muscled man armed with a vicious-looking cestus and barbed net.

After the required salutes, their battle began as she rose into the air and he started to spin the net. She dove and evaded the net several times, never quite able to strike a killing blow on the skilled professional. The crowd's chants rose to a massive drone when she rose, wheeled and dove in for another attack. She executed a precision roll using her shield to deflect the net and drop in behind it. His parry with the cestus was too slow as she drove the spear into thigh, forcing him to drop to the ground in pain.

She stood triumphant over the fallen gladiator and waited for the elderly Emperor's sign. When he gave an upward thumb to slay the fallen, she did with a wanton, feral grin on her face.

When she stepped back, the crowd fell silent as the dead man rose. A worried murmur started when other dead gladiators began to walk into the arena. The murmur became a panicked shout when she waved her hand and the dead attacked the audience.

The Praetorian Guard hurried the Emperor from his seat and down his escape tunnel, closing the door behind them. Apocalypse flew to the Imperial Booth and stood before the throne. She turned and faced outward. In a triumphant voice, she said, "All bow and worship before your Empress!"

Mobile Base Tintagel in high elliptical orbit, Earth D-517

From the briefing room podium, the base commander said, "Finally, Master Ringbearer Alverez. Your team will investigate the Rome Anomaly to determine if it is responsible for the travel and communication blackout."

"Yes, Sir," Don Javier said.

The commander said, "Very well. Good luck, everyone. Dismissed."

The large gathering broke up as the teams went to their assigned stations or prepared to head down to the planet.

On the way to their debarkation bay, Don Javier said, "Archangel, how well can you pinpoint that disturbance?"

"I can put us within five meters."

"Then let's hope our target didn't travel very far."

Rome, Earth D-517

Richard was examining the old emperor's escape tunnel when he felt a sudden and unexpected disturbance outside. Four beings had appeared that were among the most strongly aligned with light that he had ever encountered.

The outer walls of the Coliseum rose above Archangel and the team as they spread out to reconnoiter the area. Shortly after, Don Javier lifted his hand and telepathically signaled the team. "There's somebody inside."

Richard had felt the faint brush of another mind and had pushed it aside before it could probe even his surface thoughts. Still, his hand dropped to his light saber as a precaution because they now knew of each other's presence. He used his computer to scan the newcomers and tightened his grip on the light saber further. Somehow, the persons outside had been involved in the interference recorded in the neighboring universes.

"I lost him." Don Javier gestured upward with his hand. "Finger Four formation, we skim over the top and take a quick look. We don't know what we're dealing with, so everybody stays together. Move."

The Ringbearers fell into formation and flew upward. They skimmed only inches over the upper rim and then swooped down along the grandstands. Near one large, open box, a lone man waited for them in the open.

Richard watched and said, "I hope they're not the type to come in guns blazing."

They newcomers spread out to surround him and hovered about thirty feet away. Richard said, "Can I help you?"

The leader came forward about five feet and said, "I am Master Ringbearer Don Javier Alvarez of the Corps of Ringbearers. We've come to investigate a disturbance in this area and we suspect that you may be involved."

"Corps of Ringbearers. I've never heard of you before," Richard said. He then noticed the silver ring on each one's finger and thought, That's odd, I can't feel a thing from them. They have some serious camouflage. "Ya'll ain't from around here, either."

Don Javier said, "We're an organization that spans many different universes to protect the living against threats of an unnatural origin. Now, who are you and what are you doing here?"

"You can call me Richard and it sounds like we're in the same line of work. I'm investigating the source of massive disturbance to neighboring universes. If you are doing what you claim to be doing, then you've been contributing to these disturbances."

"We've fought against the Apocalypse on many worlds and we've finally driven her back here."

"I suppose I should thank you for that. It gave me the chance to interdict and keep her from traveling elsewhere while I figure out what to do."

Archangel, Niles and Audrey stiffened at the comment. Don Javier said, "Your interdict has cut us off from our headquarters. You must lift it."

"I'm afraid I can't do that until I have a plan."

"You don't understand. That wasn't a request."

"No, you don't understand. The risk of Apocalypse getting away to harm another universe is too great. The interdict will not be dropped."

Don Javier moved another five feet closer. "If you are on our side..."

"I am, as far as I can tell."

"Then you will allow us to travel freely and communicate with our headquarters."

"The interdict is complete. Nothing can go in or out, not even me. Once I requested the interdict, I was cut off just like you are."

"I don't believe that you would leave yourself stranded like that.

I don't have time for this. Richard reached out to carefully touch each of their minds and said, "You don't need to stop the interdict. You can go about your business and not worry about me." Even as he finished the command, Richard knew that something had blocked the suggestion from going through.

Don Javier thought to his team, "He's trying to control us. Attack at will."

The longer it will take to reach your goal, when impatience is the path you follow. The words of his old master reminded Richard of one of his oldest weaknesses as he ignited his light saber and the orange blade emerged. Just in time, he let go of direct conscious control and rolled his wrist in an arc to deflect a burst of ice crystals fired at him by Audrey. He extended the motion into a long, sideward jump to evade a telekinetic punch from Niles. Richard landed and dropped low, gesturing with his left hand to stop Don Javier's telekinetic grasp.

Sensing Archangel's inexperience as the Ringbearer flew toward him, Richard telekinetically nudged him aside and made a leap through the gap in the circle that the Ringbearers had formed around him. He reached the Imperial viewing box and made a break down the escape tunnel. From memory, he entered a short, memorized code on his portable computer and stepped through the portal that formed as a thundering blast of wind howled through the tunnel at hurricane speed.

Cape Canaveral, Earth D-517

Richard stepped out of the portal onto the fine sand of his escape destination, Apollo Beach. Several miles away to the south, the remains of Launch Complex 39 stood beyond dunes covered with coastal scrub and sea oats waving in the sea breeze. Further inland, the blocky structure of the Vehicle Assembly Building rose. He jogged to the dune line, ducking under the vegetation canopy out of habit to stay concealed.

"Damn, those guys are Lensman or Green Lantern grade," he said, sitting down on the sand. He ran the term "Ringbearer" through his computer's database and came up with nothing. "Great, a first contact situation and I piss them off. I hope I have time to catch my breath and come up with a way to calm them down before they follow me." He set the computer to play back scans of the Ringbearers while he thought of how to deal with them in the same limited time he had to come up with a way to stop Apocalypse.

While thinking on the situation, he became aware of memories of events almost, but not exactly like he'd just experienced. "Okay, this is getting real complicated," he said, realizing that he was remembering a previous timeline that separated from his current at the moment the Ringbearers appeared.

Rome, Earth D-517

The yellowest hound will chase anything that flees.

Archangel remembered the words of Captain Bridger, one of his instructors at the War College, as he turned towards the portal:

"You know what your biggest problem is, Wright? You're an adrenaline junkie. You're more interested in the chase than the kill – and you need to learn when not to chase the target! You've got instincts and you have missiles! Use them and stay alive!"

"Oh, no – you did not just blow past me!"

In an instant, Don Javier knew the novice Ringbearer's intentions. "Archangel, stand down!"

Archangel's eyes narrowed; within his shields, his DRADIS and HUD flashed to life before him:

==IDENTIFIED: Unknown metahuman
==Classification: Class Four Psionic
==Tracking quantum/psionic trail of metahuman

==Unknown metahuman possesses biokinetic link to extradimensional power source!

==Scanning known extradimensional power sources...

==Scanning Oan universal power generation matrix feed...
==Scanning Universal Morphing Grid...
==Scanning current location of Uni-Power physical manifestation...
==Scanning current location of Power Primate physical manifestation...
==Scanning Time Vortex...
==Scanning The Bleed...
==Scanning Speed Force...
==Scanning all extant ley line formations...

==Unknown extradimensional energy source located
==Return to Command with findings

==Target quantum/psionic trail located
==Interdimensional/spatial shift to target location IN PROGRESS

Before Don Javier or any of the others could speak – Archangel was gone.

Cape Canaveral, Earth D-517

Richard felt the disturbance as Archangel arrived on the beach. That didn't take long. He watched the Ringbearer regain his bearings and start to carefully search. Curious that he's alone, they were moving like a team before. He's searching like a pro, so he has combat experience but must be new to using that Ring. I hope I can use that.

Richard stepped out into the open and said, "Over here."

Archangel did a fast spin in the air and checked his mental display.

==Return to Command with findings

Ignoring the display, he drove straight toward Richard and directed twin telekinetic slams at his target.

The direct attack was easy to avoid as Richard shifted aside. "We need to talk."

"I don't care for someone trying to muck around in my mind," Archangel said as he swooped around. At the beginning of his dive, he turned the ground under Richard's feet into water.

Richard leapt away as the sand changed, rolling through a flip to avoid Archangel's strafing run. He called out, "I'm sorry about the mental nudge. I have a lot to do and I got impatient."

Archangel directed another hurricane-force blast of wind ahead of him as he made his next pass. Richard dove forward under it and deftly rose to his feet as Archangel flew overhead. "Please, listen."

Frustrated at his opponent's apparent ability to anticipate his moves, Archangel shaped the earth into a stone box to trap Richard's movements before beginning his next attack.

For the first time since Archangel had appeared, Richard ignited his light saber. He cut a hole in the stone and dove through as a cluster of metal balls slammed into the ground where he'd stood. Once outside, Richard lifted his hand and telekinetically grabbed Archangel, bringing him to the ground.

While Archangel struggled physically and telekinetically against the hold, he threw everything he could think of at Richard, drawing on each of the alchemical elements. Lastly, he took a chance and drew up a bolt of quintessence. Richard batted it away with his light saber and stood in front of Archangel.

"We're going to talk," Richard said. He turned off his light saber and hooked it onto his belt. "I'm going to let you go and we're going to start over. I won't try to influence your mind and you won't try to beat the snot out of me. Okay?"

Archangel struggled more and glared.

"I can tell that you are a good person. Go with your instincts. Do you really think I'm a threat?"

Archangel was released and he flexed his arms, but didn't move further. "You're serious," he said.

"We both want to stop Apocalypse."

Archangel nodded.

Richard extended his right hand. "Then why don't we work together?"

Archangel shook his hand and said, "Whoa, that was some kind of déjà vu.

Richard reached up and adjusted his glasses while he took in what Archangel had said. "You may find this odd, but do you feel like you have additional memories going back to the moment your team entered the Coliseum?"

Archangel thought for a moment and said, "How did you know?"

"Because we have done this before. You're remembering a previous timeline. Something in our future will alter the past. We just passed our points of divergence."

"What could that be?"

"I don't know and we may not know for some time to come. But, it tells me that we will probably have business in the future. By the way, I didn't catch your name."

"You can call me Archangel."

"Glad to meet you."

Don Javier and the rest of the team portaled in and spread out around them. He said, "Tintagel put us right on the mark."

Archangel called, "Stand down!"

At the ready, Don Javier said, "What?"

"I trust my gut that he's on our side. So, stand down."

Richard turned and held his hands to the side. "My apologies for earlier. I let my impatience get in the way. We have a common problem and I hope we can come up with a common solution. Besides, trying to fight you guys will tire someone out." And I'm glad Archangel is a novice with his ring or I'd have been in serious trouble.

Mobile Base Tintagel in high elliptical orbit, Earth D-517

The base commander paced back and forth in his office. "Pardon my skepticism, but the Corps of Ringbearers has explored the Multiverse for over nine hundred years and we've never heard the slightest thing about your agency."

Standing in front of the commander's desk, Richard said, "I understand your reluctance. After all, we've never heard of you, either. These things happen when you're dealing with infinity and besides, time doesn't necessarily run concurrently between realities."

"However, you still want us to commit to your plan."

"Except for Archangel coming with me, all you will be doing is continuing your current plan of stopping her on this planet."

"Why Archangel? He's one of our newest recruits."

"With the metazombies that Apocalypse has recruited, one more Ringbearer won't make much of a difference down there, but Archangel's natural ability to detect interdimensional travel will greatly increase our chance for success if he's with me." Richard checked his computer and said, "The Interdict will end in four hours and twenty-six minutes. We really should start as soon as it goes down."

The commander sat down and slowly tapped his fingers on the desk before saying, "Agreed. Archangel, prepare to depart with Richard. Don Javier, have your team ready to deploy on the planet surface."

Archangel and Richard walked along one of the base's observation galleries while the Earth below filled the windows. Richard said, "So you really flew Apaches. Man, I wish I could've done that."

"Flying's a blast, but you've got a light saber," Archangel said. "A real light saber. That is cool."

"Just don't try to pick your teeth with it."

"Good one," Archangel said with a laugh.

"I'm glad you agreed to come along, knowing the risks."

"It's worth it."

"It's almost time. Is there anything you need to do before we leave?"

"No, sir."

Klaxon's sounded their alarm. Archangel saw messages appear on his HUD display.

==Linking to Tintagel security network
==Confirmed: Wright, Gerald W./Ringbearer Postulant
==Origin/Designation: Earth (D-77)
==Accessing security network



==Multiple HST units breaching on Deck Three
==Contact established with defensive forces
==Internal Defense Grid enabled and operational

==Infestation Intensity Level Status: CLASS FOUR
==HST shields deployed at maximum intensity
==ALERT! Active HST infestation zone
==Location: Deck Three/Section Kilo


==Aggressor force/analysis IN PROGRESS...

==Classification: Reanimate/Russo-One
==Saturation level in target area: 0457
==Classification: Reanimate/Kirkman-One
==Saturation level in target area: 0034
==Classification: Metahuman/Class Four-EXTREME
==Saturation level in target area: 0001

==ALERT! Active reanimation agent in area
==Method of reanimation: biological/metaphysical/mystical co-vectors

==Class Four metahuman possesses Class-MU/MG abilities

==All personnel: report to assigned defensive posts
==Repel Boarders

The screen flashed, then cleared and displayed the following:


Archangel said, "Apocalypse is onboard with a lot of friends."

"She didn't conquer a couple dozen worlds by not dealing with threats to her power. Let's make the most of this and hope the Tintagel holds out."

"What do I need to do?"

"Follow me. This is a lot like your ring's ablility to travel the light." Richard opened a portal and they both stepped through as the lights flickered onboard the Tintagel

Lawndale, Maryland. Earth D-517. Nine years ago.

Richard looked at the empty pizza place and said, "So that's how she initially escapes."

"Do you know this place?"

"Oh, yes. Lawndale is important to a lot of realities."

"Why is that?"

"A nexus lives here or lived here at one time."

"A nexus?"

"A person vital to the existence of a universe, or in this case, a person whose various incarnations are central to many universes."

"And this person lived in this little Podunk town?"

"Yes. Her parents moved her here."

"So Apocalypse is after this nexus?"

"Possibly. In many realities, there is an interdimensional portal of some kind in the town and the nexus often knows its location. If we close it, we prevent Apocalypse from leaving and eventually acquiring the ability to dimension travel on her own."

"Do you know where this portal is at?"

"Usually it's behind a Chinese restaurant, but not always. That's where your ability can come in handy."

"I'll give it a try," Archangel said. He concentrated on feeling the edges of the reality around him and noticed a distortion less than a mile away. "Found it. I wonder what the ring can tell me."


==Transdimensional device located


==IDENTIFIED: Architect's Portal
==Classification: Class Five Guided Portal Technology
==Return to Command with findings

"What's an Architect's Portal?"

Richard covered his face with one hand. "Damn, I hate those things."


"Yes and no."

"I hate answers like that."

"The good part is that it explains some more about Apocalypse and they can be destroyed."

"The bad?" Archangel asked.

"They're possibly intelligent and at least telempathetic. It's very tempting to use them and you can get addicted."

"That would explain why I got a 'use forbidden' message."

"You have smart bosses."

"So far, anyway. What's the plan?"

"We stay out of sight and destroy either the portal or her when she prepares to leave this world. The portal will probably be easier"

"I just thought of something," Archangel said. "If you can travel through time, why didn't we go back in time to stop her before she started the zombie outbreak?"

Richard sighed at hearing the anticipated question. "If she had come from another universe, we would, but she's a natural product of this reality. We can't change what happened, but we can prevent her from doing further harm."

"We can't?" Archangel thundered in anger. "We damn well can!"

Richard slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry. It's not our decision."

"It is our decision. You're afraid to make it."

Richard said, "You're right, it is fear. Fear of the harm we could do by interfering with their choices."

"That's just speculation."

"It's hard-learned lessons from past mistakes. We don't have the wisdom to be gods."

"Saving lives isn't rocket science."

"No, it's not. But, deciding the fate of a world is an entirely different matter. If it makes you feel any better, I thought the same way when I was younger. We all want to save the world."

"But you got cynical with age."

"I got to know my limitations."

"You don't look like Clint Eastwood."

"Some movies are classics everywhere."

Archangel paced back and forth a couple times. "I'm not going to convince you to go further back in time, am I?"


"Then I'll have to settle for what I can save here and now."

"We'll save what we can."

Archangel and Richard scouted the abandoned restaurant before taking up observation positions around the portal and waiting. While scanning, his ring detected something. Archangel said, "Someone's coming."


"No. Zero reanimates or metahumans within five klicks. We have humans approaching."

"Damn, that complicates things. How many?

"Over three hundred."

"Okay, they're either tough or well organized and they must know about the portal."

"Two scouts are about to round the corner moving in cover formation. What are we going to do?"

Richard quickly checked his computer and said, "Send them through the portal."

"But the portal's forbidden!"

"Forbidden for you, not for them. The trick is going to making sure that they don't go to another reality and that our actions don't change their future in this reality."

"That shouldn't be too hard."

"Portals can be very tricky. Don't bet on it."

"What about the scouts?"

"Let's get out there and say, 'Hi,'" Richard said. "Lower the ring's invisibility glamour."

The scout's halted and leveled M-16s at the two and one shouted, "Halt!"

Richard calmly said, "We're not dead."

The lead scout said, "They're not dead."

"You'd better take us to your commander."

"We'd better take them to the General."

The second scout waved with his rifle and said, "This way."

Richard stepped forward and said, "Thank you."

Archangel followed and whispered, "That's really creepy to see in person."

A couple blocks away, they found a column of people moving forward. Most had backpacks and satchels stuffed full, while others pushed wheelbarrows and shopping carts stacked high and covered with tarps. The scouts took Archangel and Richard to a tall woman who was giving orders.

The first scout said, "General, we found these two near the target zone."

When she turned, Archangel said, "General Trainor?"

Very surprised, her hand dropped to her sidearm and said, "Col. Wright? I saw you die."

Richard said, "Close relative, General."

To him, Gen. Trainor said, "You are?"


"Just, 'Richard?'"


Gen. Trainor said, "What are you doing here? How did you survive?"

"Paranoia and a lot of luck."

A second woman in civilian clothes came up and said, "We can always use a couple more strong men."

"I was thinking about inviting them, Amy," Gen. Trainor said. "Gentlemen, several years ago, as one of the Pentagon's many contingency plans, I was given orders to insure continuity of government in case of an Extinction Level Event. We have a way to escape from Apocalypse with the President, what's left of the Cabinet and all of the survivors we could find. Do you wish to join us?"

When Archangel finally got Richard away from the others, he said, "What kind of laying low are you doing by joining them? It would've been a lot easier to stay behind a glamour."

"On the surface," Richard said. Now, I can be close enough to the portal to influence it to take the survivors to a habitable planet in this universe and we'll be right there to destroy the portal after they go through. We'll be 'regrettably lost.' And, if Apocalypse tries to intervene, we'll be in a better position to protect them, but the trick will be to do it without them knowing our nonstandard abilities."

"Why do I have the feeling that destroying this thing isn't as easy as it sounds?"

"It's not. We'll need split-second timing to get away safely."

"Sounds like my kind of plan."

As the survivors gathered around, Daria Morgendorffer stood in front of the exposed Architect's Portal and said, "I first found it when I was in high school. Except for my friend Jane and her brother Trent, I told nobody about it. When Apocalypse began her attack on the US, my Aunt, Amy Barksdale-Wyatt, brought my family and the rest of her family to the Wyatt bunker near the Greenbriar. After it became clear that things were going bad, I managed to convince her husband Reese to help me get back here to see if the portal survived. It had. When we returned, we found that General Trainor had led the remaining government to the old nuclear-war bunker hidden at the Greenbriar. The rest, you know."

Gen. Trainor said, "We've lost half of us making the trip here, so we can't delay any longer. Let's get loaded and ready to move out. Keep your intervals and keep moving. We're probably only going to get one shot at this before Apocalypse and her zombies show up.

Watching from a distance, Archangel said, "The girl with the glasses is the nexus?"

Richard nodded. "Yep. Good kid, if a little on the spoiled side."

"Why her?"

"Because she's the reason this universe was created."

"That doesn't help."

"Sorry for the quick explanation. The longer version requires a lot of trans-relativistic physics with a healthy does of quasi-quantum mechanics."


"That's why I stuck with the quick explanation. Besides, we don't have enough coffee to get through the longer one."

Archangel's HUD flashed:

==Active HST infestation zone update: teleportation event detected

==HST shields deployed

==Classification: Reanimate/Russo-One
==Reanimate saturation level:
==Zone One (0-5 kilometers): 15673

==Classification: Metahuman/Class Four-EXTREME
==Zone One (0-5 kilometers): 0001

==ALERT! Active reanimation agent in area
==Method of reanimation: biological/metaphysical/mystical co-vectors

==Class Four metahuman possesses Class-MU/MG abilities

==Reanimates converging on this location

"Now trouble is coming," Archangel said. "And she brought a whole lot of friends."

A radio that General Trainor carried crackled and a panicked voice said, "Oh, my God! They're here! Thousands of them just came out of nowhere."

General Trainor yelled, "That's it. Move it!"

Daria spun and touched the portal frame. Richard mentally reached out and guided her mind to a safe planet. The portal strongly resisted the guidance, trying instead to take them to another universe, but was unable to overcome Daria's augmented will.

When the portal opened, a pair of Secret Service agents went through, followed by a squad of soldiers and then the President.

With the portal location locked, Richard ran to where Archangel was standing at the ready. "How close?" Richard asked.

The flying form of Apocalypse appeared over the ruined buildings in front of them and Archangel answered, "Very."

Gauging the situation, Richard said, "Do you want the endless zombie horde or the flying psycho with the spear and shield?"

"Hmm, I'll go with the endless zombie horde. I can use the bottlenecks around here to our advantage," Archangel said, already planning his next move. "What about you?"

"Bring her down to Earth and see what she's made of."

When Archangel and Richard ran past two of the guarding soldiers, one tried to stop him but was prevented by his partner, who said, "Let them go play hero. We have to protect the civilians."

Out of sight of the human survivors, Archangel stopped at a corner and concentrated on the approaching wave of zombies, causing them to dissolve into dust as they got within range.

In between waves, he used the ring to create outward leaning stone walls across the intersecting streets that the zombies couldn't climb, forcing them to use a single approach.

Richard selected an empty block below where Apocalypse was hovering. The darkness and evil emanating from her was almost palpable, especially from her spear. "Ancient magic brought back to life. Figures," he said to himself. He ignited his light saber and shouted, "Down here!"

Apocalypse heard and looked down in curiosity.

"Yeah, down here!" Richard shouted again and waved his light saber.

The new weapon caught her attention and she started to circle, examining the new and unexpected opponent.

"I said, 'Down here.'" Richard gestured with his left hand and telekinetically pulled her to the ground, eliciting a grunt of pain from the creature as he brought her down face-first. "That's better."

Her native Italian coming through clearly, Apocalypse said, "Very curious to find a real challenge. It's a pity you're too late."

"Not for what I have planned," Richard said.

Zombies converged from the nearby streets onto the empty lot and surrounded the two. She said, "Very well. I hope you don't mind my friends. I don't want you to run away."

The winged creature scowled with anger as zombies were flung in every direction, disappearing over rooftops and through windows and walls, as Richard made a slight gesture with his left hand and cleared the area so that he stood alone in the street. "No gentleman needs an audience when he wants to send time with a special lady," he replied. Richard held the light saber in two hands and easily took a right leg lead stance. He watched carefully as his opponent circled and closed range.

Apocalypse held her shield with her right hand open to guide the spear shaft which was also held firmly by her left hand. She shoved her left hand forward, driving the spear in a trial thrust toward Richard.

Richard half-stepped right and pivoted his blade to the left to knock the spear point away; sparks flew as a loud 'pop' echoed across the empty area. In the same motion, he scissored his right hand forward and left back to make a quick chop at Apocalypse.

Her right hand let go of the spear and with a firm hold on the center grip, punched the shield edge against the energy blade, throwing it aside amid more sparks.

They disengaged and assumed ready stances as they circled and scrutinized each other. He lunged forward, dropping his right shoulder to pull the blade into a downward arch toward her leading leg.

She met the attack by dropping the spear point and blocking the strike. Richard lifted his left hand to bring the blade into an inverted guard and then pulled the left hand back down to bring it around into a sharp diagonal slash.

Apocalypse swung her left leg back and pivoted while bringing her shield to deflect the incoming blade. As the blade slid clear, she swiped the shield edge toward Richard's head, forcing him to dive back into a roll.

She used the chance to rise into the air and quickly dove in at Richard, spear first.

Richard's rising telepathic push against her right wing made her go into a roll that drove her left wing into the ground. As she crashed, Apocalypse twisted and hurled the spear at Richard with blinding speed.

Even with the sense of knowing that enabled him to deflect projectiles and energy blasts; Richard wasn't able to dodge fast enough to fully clear the spear point, which left an ugly gash across his right arm. Richard saw the tissue dying around the wound and said, "That's not good."

Apocalypse waved her hand; Richard saw a second wave of zombies appear, moaning loudly as they began to move in on him. "And that's worse."

"I don't like the idea of leaving a partner alone," Archangel said. He moved to look at the open block where Richard and Apocalypse were sparring. "I wonder if I can..."

He created a hemispherical force field and slowly expanded it through the streets and alleys of town. Zombies were pushed back and in places, crushed against each other as the field cleared the town. "Why didn't I think of that before?" he berated himself before launching into the air to join the fight with Apocalypse and the circling zombies.

Feeling a little dramatic, he rolled a wall of fire before him as he circled around the empty block to incinerate the zombies.

Her left wing broken and dragging the ground, Apocalypse reached out with both hands and grabbed the nearest zombies by the neck. The zombies gave off pained moans as she dug her fingers into their rotting flesh, the remaining tissue dissolved over her hands as Apocalypse's wing healed.

"No – that's worse," Richard said as she rose into the sky, drew a knife from her belt, and flew at Archangel.

Archangel sensed the approaching attack and rolled to the side, bringing the wave a fire up at her. Apocalypse rose high and swept behind to slash the knife across his back before diving to the ground for a controlled landing before Richard hit her telekinetically.

The winged creature took several steps back - dazed by the physical attack, and the condition of the blade she used to strike the Ringbearer, which was warped, discolored, and hot, as if she had placed it against an incredible source of heat. Apocalypse turned and buried the blade into another zombie. When the creatures flesh fell away, the blade was as polished as they day the smith finished it.

"That flying bitch is dead!" Archangel shouted in pain and anger. He landed to concentrate on healing the bone-deep wound and take stock of the situation. "How are we doing?"

"We're not dead, yet," Richard said while slashing his light saber through several zombies that had closed on him.

Apocalypse picked up her fallen spear and faced the two. She smiled and said, "Not yet, but soon. Very soon. And then, you'll be all mine."

Richard said, "Archangel. There's ancient magic in her weapons that kills flesh. Be careful."

With his back feeling better, Archangel said, "It doesn't affect me, but I'm surprised that she got through the ring's shield and the TK shield. How the hell did she do that?"

"The Emperor gathered the greatest mystic researchers in the world and tested their weapons in the Coliseum," Apocalypse said. She looked at her wings and said, "And how do you think I came about?"

"Magical genetics," Richard said. He ran to Archangel and quietly added, "We need to get some distance between us and her."

"First time I've ever said those words concerning someone with a body like that," Archangel replied, his comment drawing a tiny glare from Richard. "Like we have anywhere to run?"

"I was thinking of throwing her somewhere."

"No plotting," she said curtly as she charged at them both, her spear making a rapid arc that Richard and Archangel barely dodged as they rolled away.

No longer toying, Apocalypse mercilessly attacked with blinding speed and guile, forcing Richard and Archangel onto the defensive.

Richard yelled, "Use your TK to grab her and throw. I'll join in on three!"

Barely ducking beneath a spear thrust, Archangel nodded; with a blue flash of light, he turned the air around her into hydrogen, but Apocalypse flapped her wings and dispersed it before he was able to ignite the gas.

Richard yelled, "One! Two! Three!"

Archangel grabbed her with his telekinesis and felt a massive boost to his strength. As she struggled, the two men combined their strength and with a great heave, threw her off into the distance with such force that they heard the sudden CRACK! of a sonic boom.

"Whoa," Archangel said.

Richard shut down his lightsaber. "We have to get back and see if the survivors have made it through. If they have, we can blow the portal and strand her here."

"Damn, your arm," Archangel said, seeing the open wound rotting away on his right arm.

Richard looked at the enlarged wound and tasted bile. "She hit me."

"Let me get that." Archangel placed a hand over the wound and both glowed blue. After several seconds, the wound slowly came back to life and healed.

"Nice trick," Richard said. "Thanks."

Archangel looked in the direction Apocalypse had been thrown. "I've got a feeling that she's not going to stay gone for long."

When they reached the alley with the Architect's Portal, only three people remained, Gen. Trainor, Daria and a single guard. Gen. Trainor saw them and said, "Hurry up, you two, it's your turn."

Richard said, "There's nobody left. It's time for you to go. Get everyone as far away from the portal as you can in case it's unstable."

Gen. Trainor motioned to the guard and said, "There's nobody left. Let's go and get everyone as far away as we can in case the portal's unstable."

"Yes ma'am. You and Ms. Morgendorffer first," the guard said.

Daria said, "I have to hold the portal open. You go and don't worry; I'll be right behind you."

"Go ahead, soldier," Gen. Trainor said. On her way through, she added over her shoulder, "Don't dawdle."

"Not a chance," Daria said as she stepped through less than a second behind.

"Good," Richard said, pulling out his hand computer. "Archangel, when Apocalypse shows up again, I need you to transmute the frame into something else. Anything will do."

"Will that destroy it?"


"Why don't you hit it with your light saber?"

Richard said, "It won't work. We've tried. R&D made a shaped charge that'll do the trick, but I don't have one in my back pocket."

"What makes you think that transmutation will work?"

"It's pretty rare, so the odds are against the Architects protecting the portals against it."

"What's going to happen when I transmute it?"

"A very big explosion."

"Great. What about us?"

"I plan on getting us out of here before we go up with the portal."

"That's going to require millisecond timing."

"I have a knack for it."

"Okay." Archangel prepared and then said, "Hey, what's going to happen at the other end?"

"The connecting portal will be drawn into the disintegrating wormhole and destroyed, thus removing any temptation for the survivors to use it."

"That's why you wanted them to get as far away as possible."

"Yep. Because of the draw, the explosion won't be as bad on their end since most of the energy will be coming this direction."

"That was quick," Richard said as he dove to the side and activated his light saber. At the same time, Archangel dove in the other direction and threw a force field around both men a moment before Apocalypse came down in a near-vertical dive.

Just before reaching them, she opened her folded back wings to break her speed and guide her into a fast pass over them, her spear flaring with heat as it passed through.

Richard batted the spear away and stepped back toward Archangel. "We need her in front of the portal."


"Maximum overkill."

Archangel gave him a grin. "I like that plan." Using his elemental affinity for Air that came from the ring, he magnified his voice and said, "Down here, you skank!"

Apocalypse spun in the air and began speeding toward them, looking most unhappy, Archangel put his hand on the portal frame and said, "Are you ready to do this?"

Richard said, "On three again."

Screaming, Apocalypse's wings folded back as she went into another steep dive and picked up speed. Richard evenly timed his count. "One...two...three."

Liking the irony, Archangel concentrated on the frame and felt a kind of push back as he transmuted it. Every woman likes a diamond ring. With the critical controls inside the frame compromised, the frame fractured under the stress of the tremendous energy required to open a gateway between realities. Archangel saw the briefest hint of a flash before Richard portaled them away.

Reality and unreality boiled and rolled out of the rupture in universe like a glowing blue and silver liquid over Lawndale. Unable to stop, Apocalypse flew into the interdimensional chaos and vanished.

New Home, D-517

Archangel and Richard were greeted with a loud bang when they appeared on a brush-covered slope overlooking a shaded river valley. Below and across the river, the survivors of Earth took cover from the debris thrown clear of the boiling blue and silver unreality that collapsed to a point and vanished where the Architect's Portal had been.

Richard checked his computer and was relieved to see a smooth, green line representing the current reality. "We did it."

"This may be a dumb question," Archangel said. "But didn't we change their history? I thought you were against that."

"We changed it, but...we used a loophole."


"In their original timeline, the portal sent these people to another universe and Apocalypse followed. They still died, and Apocalypse had the first of dozens of new Earths to conquer. Now, they've come to a new planet in their home universe and Apocalypse was stopped from ever leaving her home planet. These people will develop naturally here; far, far away from Earth and neither they or Apocalypse will disrupt another reality. The books and supplies they brought will give them a good head start and I chose this place to give them every advantage I could."

Archangel looked across the river and said, "They don't have that much and there's only a couple hundred of them. It's not going to be easy."

"They'll fall back to a comparatively primitive lifestyle, but they'll make it and in a few thousand years, a modern civilization will arise again."

"But will they have learned any lessons from their past?"

"That's for them to decide, not us," Richard said. "It's time for us to get back to where we belong before we're noticed."

"We should do something more to help them. Look, I can make another Defender Ring and give it to someone worthy among them."

Richard said, "That thing reproduces?"

"I haven't thought of it in those terms, but, yeah."

"So if you give them one, you'll give them as many as they can make."

"But they can only be created for an inherently good person."

"With the absolute best of intentions," Richard said. "We've had a lot of problems with that paving company."

"I get that, but what if some catastrophe hits and wipes them out?"

Richard showed Archangel the computer display and as it ran forward, showed brief glimpses of the colony growing toward a new civilization. "That's their future. Yes, they will be hit by natural disasters, just like all societies. Some, pretty bad, but nobody can avoid all of them. You can rest assured that they won't be wiped out. If that would've been their future, then...then I would've sent them to headquarters for recruitment."

Sarcastic, Archangel said, "Indentured servitude. Now that's impressive."

"It's a last resort. They would have the choice not to work for the Agency and pursue their life in the planetary society, but...I think it's better to give them the chance to make their own future whenever possible."

"I still don't like the odds you're giving them." Archangel said, not completely convinced of Richard's viewpoint. "Hey, let's try a different angle."

"I'm listening, but remember, we can't do anything that will alter any of their decisions or choices."

"I thought you said that. Do you know that my ring can manipulate the alchemical elements like earth and metal?"

"That's pretty handy."

"I was thinking that it wouldn't alter any of their choices if there just happened to be an abundance of near-surface minerals like coal, sulfur, copper, tin or iron ore."

Richard lifted an eyebrow. "That's treading a pretty thin line, but there's more leeway with a major reconstruction effort. With those minerals, the colonists can start producing bronze and iron tools in less than a year and not have to learn flint knapping. I like it."

"Great, that's one problem down. What about food?"

"Already ahead of you. There's plenty of food in the valley, though mostly vegetarian."

"What about disease?"

"For now, they'll only have to worry about what they brought with them. It'll take a while before any of the native microorganisms evolve into human pathogens." Richard said, "I picked this place for a reason."

A sly smiled formed on Archangel's face. "A place to give them the best start without making any decisions for them. You're a sneaky little bastard."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"How it was intended."

They watched the colonists come out from hiding from the portal explosion. Under the direction of Gen. Trainor and Daria, they begin to scout the area and check their supplies. Archangel knelt down and placed his hands on the ground. A blue glow around his hands diffused into the soil and after a minute, he rose and said, "Okay, now I think we can go."

As Richard prepared the computer to generate the portal back, Archangel turned slightly away and smiled to himself. I'm not making any decisions for them... As he stepped through the portal after Richard, he let his ring hand linger behind to be the last thing through.

A blue glow surrounded the colonists, causing them to stop in surprise and concern. Daria blinked at her suddenly blurry vision and removed her glasses. She then stared in wonder to realize that she no longer needed them – her vision was inexplicably normal. Others around the camp did the same as they realized that their vision had been corrected, or their hearing had been returned and as time went on, that their old ailments were gone.

As Archangel stepped out onto the deck of Tintagel, he completed his thought, ...just giving them their health.

When Don Javier spotted them, he said, "There you are! Did you do it? You must have done it."

"I've never had a welcome back like that before," Archangel said, "but it sounds good."

"I remember exactly how we recruited you, came here to D-517 and were boarded by zombies, and you two said you were going into the past to stop Apocalypse. Now, we're here because a Pathfinder reported of a planet full of zombies and trying to figure out if you pulled off a reset."

Richard said, "We did. We traveled back nine years and altered the timeline to stop Apocalypse. If the base commander is available, I can start explaining things to him and then to everyone else."

"Unaided?" Don Javier said. "That's..."

Archangel said, "The dude's out there, but I'd listen to him."

"Um, okay," Don Javier said. "But you'll have to wait. Nova Valdris sent a Sky Vault when we lost communications and the commander is over there trying to explain that there's been an unauthorized reset."

"Then we better go over to this Sky Vault, because I'm sure the commander has no better idea than you do. Oh, and I have the authority to do a reset. Give me a second, please. I need to send a message to my headquarters."


Interdict and reset were successful. Affected reality timelines returned to nominal. No need for additional teams.

First contact with interdimensional-capable culture initiated. Full report upon my return.


"What's a Sky Vault?" Archangel asked while Richard was sending the message.

Don Javier led them to a viewport and pointed to the immense mobile station in a matching orbit to the Tintagel "That."

"Damn, it's big enough to make its own eclipses!" Archangel said in surprise.

"When HQ loses contact with a base, they assume something big and something bigger."

"Makes sense," Richard said. He looked again through the viewpoint and said, "But the Powell Doctrine on steroids?"

The Tintagel's commander had no more said, "I remember you," upon seeing Archangel and Richard then a small portal formed on the command deck of the Sky Vault Giza and Emissary Fran flew out.

She hovered and said, "Greetings to all from the Council of Ringmasters."

"She's back. Something really important," Don Javier said with reverence.

The commander of the Giza said, "Greetings, Emissary. Welcome to the Giza.

"Thank you," Fran demurely said. "The Ringmasters request that you listen to the representative of our new ally. Richard, will you please brief them on your activities? After that, I need a word with you and Ringbearer Archangel."

Not certain, but hopeful about being called a new ally, Richard said, "On my authority, Ringbearer Archangel and I traveled back in time nine years to prevent the metahuman Apocalypse from leaving the planet below and spreading zombie plagues to numerous other universes."

Don Javier said, "Isn't it odd that we remember the alternate timeline?"

"That's right," Richard said. "It is very unusual for so many not involved with the reset to remember the prior timeline."

The Giza commander said, "Besides that, is there anything more you need to tell us about what's been going on?"

"It's going to take a while to explain."

"We apparently have plenty of time."

"Okay, I warned you."

Seated in a small, private dining room on the Giza, Fran had returned her body to its normal height, though that was still less than five feet tall. To both Richard and Archangel, she pushed a thick, bound volume. "The Nova Valdris Accords between the Council of Ringmasters and the Agency. For temporal safety, information about the Accords is granted to personnel of both organizations strictly on a need-to-know basis. You've already seen part of result of the accords. By agreement, Ringbearers are not subject to temporal resets by the Agency and vice-versa. That's why everyone remembers."

Richard said, "So that explains it."

Archangel said, "What does this have to do with us?"

"By the agreement," Fran said. "You two are to be the primary liaisons between the organizations."

"Why us?" Richard asked.

"As you just demonstrated, you work well together," Fran said.

Archangel asked, "When did this go into effect?"

"A thousand years ago and few years from now," Fran said.


Richard said, "It hasn't been signed yet, but it goes back a thousand years."

Fran said, "Correct."

"That didn't help," Archangel said.

Richard said, "It's – it's time. It does that. Just accept it for now."

Looking down on the planet from the Giza command deck, the Tintagel's commander said, "Even with your help, it's going to take months to eradicate over five billion zombies."

"That might cost us a lot of good people. We have to consider planetary destruction."

"I'd suggest doing neither one," Richard said as he entered with Archangel and Fran.

"We're Ringbearers," Giza's commander said. "We exist to stop supernatural menaces like zombies. We can't risk leaving them here."

Archangel said, "Apocalypse is gone. They're not going anywhere."

"And you can make sure nobody goes down there," Richard said.

Tintagel's commander said, "It's too much of a risk. The zombies wiped out humanity on the planet. We can't sit by and do nothing.

"You're right, humanity is gone from this world, and the survivors have been taken to a new planet."

"Then there's no reason not to destroy the planet and be sure," Giza's commander said.

Richard said, "There's still life down there. The zombies will fade away naturally and then this Earth will heal and grow. You don't need to risk any lives to hurry that along. In a couple hundred million years, another intelligent species will evolve from the unnoticed life that escaped the darkness. That species deserves as much of a chance as Homo sapiens has on their new home. So please, don't destroy it."

To Richard, he said, "Are you sure that the metahuman is dead?"

Richard activated his hand computer and brought up the multiverse display. "This is our current universe and the adjacent ones. The green color shows that they are flowing without unacceptable deviation from their natural course. She's been neutralized."

"Not dead?"

"I can't guarantee dead, but she's permanently out of the picture."

Fran said, "The Council supports his suggestion. Monitoring without intervention."

"As they wish," Giza's commander said. "But I'm not comfortable."

Archangel said, "An old CO of mine once said the right choice usually isn't comfortable."

Richard said, "Thank you."

Richard shook Archangel's hand and said, "It looks like we'll be doing business again in the future."

"It certainly does. It's been...an eye opening experience."

"Same here."

"What now?"

"I need to get back to HQ and do all the paperwork. The bane of all bureaucracies and not something I'm looking forward to. What about you?"

"Paperwork. Better you than me. I'm on my way to the Ringbearer headquarters on Nova Valdris and more training. I'm not looking forward to being a recruit again."

"You can have the recruit training."

"Good luck with the new supervisor thing," Archangel said."

"Thanks. Good luck with this new Ringbearer thing. Until next time," Richard said, waved and then stepped through a portal back to his headquarters.

Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Tired, Richard poured a cup of coffee from the pot on his desk and sat down. After several sips, he picked up the phone. "Nora, just wanted to let you know I'm back. I'll be working on paperwork now."

He returned the phone to the cradle and started a new file: Memorial Services for Team SCR-83.

"Rest in Peace, guys," he quietly said.

Corps of Ringbearers Headquarters, Nova Valdris, D-476

Archangel followed Don Javier down a corridor until he stopped at door. "Your quarters," the veteran said. "I think you'll find them very comfortable."

"You're right," Archangel said as he looked at the spacious and well-appointed room.

"Call me if you have any more questions," Don Javier said as he prepared to leave.


Left alone in the room, Archangel sat down on a comfortable chair. I hope I live up to what they want.

Lawndale, Maryland. Earth D-517. Nine years ago.

Moments after the blast zone cooled, Ringmaster Archangel stepped through one of his portals. He looked around at the empty wedge of ground that had faced the portal opening and the wavelike pattern the event horizon left on the ground. He then looked at the undamaged other side of the former portal. "We really made a mess with that one."

Also older, Richard appeared when he opened his full EM spectrum chameleon suit. "Yeah, turning the frame into diamond created one hell of a lens to focus the blast."

"So did the blast destroy her?"

Richard held up his hand computer. "Not exactly, but with a little adjustment, the chaotic event horizon sent her to several realities that no longer exist."

Archangel, confused, started to ask a question, but Richard waved him off. "Just forget about it, Archangel. It's - it's Time."

"Gotcha. So, what now?"

"Pizza? My cash, your pick."

"Lords of Za, Earth D-823. I have a soft spot for their Everything But Anchovies special."

"Deal. Fuzzy fish only work on Greek salads."

May-July, 2009